Authors: Victoria Danann
“On the other hand, I guess you needed the energy. Like you said.
“Ha! It was a prediction.
“Maybe you’re clairvoyant. No. If you were clairvoyant, we would have stayed in Edinburgh in a nice safe warm building where there’s food and water and dry clothes and toilet facilities.”
Lana pictured people in her home world sitting in cars, offices, and on sofas.
“I hate those people! They’re
ungrateful!” She looked at Brave. “People take conditioned air and dry clothes for granted, you know that?”
She pulled the decks of cards from the duffel. “Sorry, Maverick. Looks like your poker parlor went under before it even got started.
“Ha! Went under! Get it? The cards went under? As in under the water? Never mind. It’s probably just as well you didn’t hear that.
“I guess you expect me to say thank you for saving my life.
“I wish I’d told you I wanted half of the energy bars. I also wish I’d said that I wanted to eat half the energy bars, take off your clothes and worship your beautiful body. People take the moment for granted. You know? It never occurred to me that might be my only chance to…”
She heard a rustle, a deep breath, and a very hoarse masculine voice say, “Lana.” He gave no indication that he would be moving from the exact position in which Lana had arranged his body.
She scooted closer and leaned over him. “Brave. You scared me.”
“I did? Because you thought you were never going to find out if I’m as good at fucking as kissing?”
“You kiss your mother with that mouth?” Brave’s face went slack and he looked at her like she’d knifed him. “Oh, God, Brave, I’m sorry. I’m so so so so sorry. I’m an idiot. No I’m a moron. Wait. Which is worse? Whichever is worse, that’s what I am.”
“Lana, it’s okay. The only person I want to kiss with this mouth is you. Why don’t you cover me and get me warm?”
“I don’t have anything to cover you up with. I’m sorry. I know you must be really, really cold…”
When her eyes returned to Brave and she saw his amused expression, she realized that he’d meant for her to use her own body to cover him and make him warm.
“Oh. You mean me.” Brave watched her look of concern become a sly smile. “I’ll make you a deal.”
“You’re a fast learner.”
We can’t stay out in the open like this. We need to get into the trees. If you’ll give me as much help as possible to move you a little ways, I’ll make you warm as I can.”
He smiled with his eyes closed. “How could I refuse that deal?”
She quickly grabbed the damp clothes, shoved them into the duffel, and stowed the duffel just inside the tree line behind the first wide trunk she came to.
When she tried to help Brave get up by pulling on his hand, he yelled out.
“What’s wrong? You’re hurt, aren’t you?”
“I hit a rock pretty hard. I don’t think anything’s broken, but I could use a nice nap.”
“Lean on me.” She knew Brave wanted to argue with that, but was smart enough not to. They managed to get about twenty feet into the forest. She more or less propped him against a tree. “Wait here for just a minute.”
Lana ran back for the duffel. She dropped it at Brave’s feet and began pulling the wet clothes out.
“What are you doing?”
“I have an idea,” she said.
When the duffel was mostly empty she stretched it out on the ground like a blanket. It wasn’t long enough to accommodate the entire length of his tall figure, but it was long enough to form a barrier between Brave and the bare ground, from head to hip. She’d helped him down and winced herself every time she heard a soft groan.
When he was on the ground, she saw that there was blood on his shirt. She raised it to get a better look. There was a gash. If they’d been close to a clinic, he would have probably gotten a few stitches, but although it would scar, it wouldn’t kill him. Unless it got infected.
Based on her previous experience in Demon World, she estimated that she had another hour of light. She set to work gathering fallen branches that were lightweight, but still had their thick green densely-bunched leaves. She piled them up next to Brave.
“Lana. What are you doing?” She thought he sounded weak.
“Sorting. Just rest.”
She took the branches that were most recently fallen, the ones that still had soft supple leaves and began stacking them on top of Brave. When the layer was about three branches deep from his neck to his feet, she began laying the damp clothes over that to provide a layer of insulation. The thick hoodie went over his chest and abdomen where the organs needed the most warmth, with everything else arranged like a puzzle to give the most cover.
After stacking the remaining branches on top of the clothes, she went on another gathering mission for more densely covered branches. When she returned, Brave was snoring softly and she thought it was the most gratifying sound she’d ever heard. She piled the rest of the branches on top of her makeshift mound then carefully lifted the layers so that she could nestle close to Brave without disturbing the integrity of her structure.
She knew Brave was hurt and was afraid she’d make it worse if she put her weight on top of him. So she settled for snuggling as close as possible.
Darkness fell, but sleep didn’t come for Lana. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she needed to be on guard. As time went on the crude and hastily constructed shelter did retain enough of their combined body heat to allow their muscles to relax. And Brave slept. As he breathed in and out, she kissed his shoulder and said a quick prayer to anyone listening asking for help to get them out of there.
She knew immediately when he woke during the night because his breathing pattern changed.
“Brave. You’re awake? Are you in pain?”
“I’ll be honest. I’ve felt better, but I don’t think it’s anything that a good nap and a demon brew won’t fix.”
“Can you go back to sleep?”
“Not right now. Talk to me?”
“Not sure that’s a good idea. My thoughts are pretty bleak right now and I think maybe you need cheerleading.”
“I just want to hear your voice. Talk about anything.”
“I was lying here thinking that it’s not like in the movies. Nobody’s going to show up in the nick of time to save us. Like the cavalry riding in at the last second.”
“What’s a cavalry?”
“There was an historical period in my, um, world of origin… well, actually in my region of my world of origin, that was known for conflict between the indigenous people and their conquerors. The conquerors had a mounted military unit, mounted on horses that is, and it was called the cavalry. Dramatic reenactments often feature the cavalry riding in at the last possible minute to save people.”
“To save the native people.”
It was harder to explain than she’d imagined.
“Well, no. To save the people they were supposed to protect, which were the new arrivals.” He looked confused. “Anyway, it was a plot element that was so overused that people of my time began to refer to last minute rescues as being saved by the cavalry. Does that make sense?”
“Yes. A couple of your books were set in that period of your history. Your ancestors were ruthless, greedy barbarians who just took what they wanted and called themselves good guys. Right?”
Lana screwed up her face, unable to refute that assessment and wishing she’d never brought it up. “Right.”
“And they called the natives savages, heathens, and sometimes demons. Right?”
“I think you’ve got a grasp of it.”
“Yes. They will.”
“What do you mean, yes, they will?”
“We will be rescued and, considering my inability to run, it could be in the… what did you say? Nick of time?”
“I didn’t say ‘nick of time’, but that goes to show that your mastery of my language is, well, remarkable.”
“How’s that going to work, Brave?”
“How do you figure we’re going to be rescued?”
“I have a microscopic transmitter under my skin. It was put there in case I ever got lost when we were traveling between worlds. I understand that it’s easy to get lost in the passes if you’re not a demon.”
“If they knew exactly where to find you, why didn’t they come snatch you out of that prison cell?”
“They would have. It probably seems to you like it’s easy to evacuate an entire population on a moment’s notice. Dart knows that I was planning to come home soon. When he realizes that I might be coming home to Reinlitegen in the streets, he’ll activate my transmitter and come for me.”
“I don’t know Brave. I mean, I know you’re sensitive about this, but people whose response to aggression is always to run and abandon their homes? Not exactly a glowing endorsement for courage.”
“There are things about this you don’t understand, Lana. The Reinlitegen are brutes and bullies. They worship violence and destruction. Where the Callii, as a species, spend their time on creative pursuits, the Reinlitegen spend
their time on war skills. They don’t make anything. They just take and, if they kill demons while they’re pillaging, I think they like it even better.
“The Callii know they can rebuild towns and forge new art, but can’t replace a son or daughter or sister or brother. So my father, my, uh, foster father says, ‘Take the stuff. I’ll keep my family safe.’”
“Well, when you put it like that,” Lana said.
“They will come for me, Lana. All we have to do is stay alive until then. Look on the bright side. There’ll be no encounter with big and horribly ugly black things.”
Brave felt the vibration of Lana’s words as she spoke into his shoulder.
“You sure about that?”
Brave erupted into a chuckle that was cut off sharply with an, “Ow.”
“Sorry. We’re establishing a temporary no-laughing rule. So what’s the plan?”
“Rest until it gets light.”
“You think you can go back to sleep?”
“Yeah. Maybe. I think that under usual circumstances I wouldn’t be able to think about anything except how good you feel so close to me.”
“There will be plenty of time to explore that when you’re better. How bad is it?”
There was a long pause while it seemed Brave was searching for how to answer. “I’m lucky to have you with me. Thank you for taking care of me.” He sounded tired and like he was falling asleep again.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You probably wouldn’t be hurt if it wasn’t for me.” That was answered with the sound of Brave’s elongated breathing, which worried Lana because it was starting to sound labored. “And if your people don’t come, Litha will look for us in another six days. And she’ll find us. She’s The Order’s best tracker, you know. Everybody says so. She found you.”
Sometime during the night Lana fell asleep despite the wretchedness of sleeping on the hard ground. Although the combination of combined body heat and her leaf blanket served to keep the cores of their bodies warm, her extremities reminded her of two critical factors. She was wearing clothes that were not fully dry and the night temperature was considerably colder. Eventually weariness overrode her awareness of the discomfort.
When she woke the next morning, light was filtering through the trees. If she’d ever been more miserable, she had no recollection of it. Her mind couldn’t decide whether to focus on stiffness, soreness, or cold.
She shook Brave gently, enough to wake him without doing further damage.
“Brave,” she said softly. When she got no response, she repeated his name a little more forcefully. “Brave!”
“Hmmm?” His eyes opened a slit.
“I think we should try to get up. If nothing else, we need to get back to the river so I can give you water. We don’t have anything to hold it in, so we have to get close enough to use hands.”